Anonymous asked: Admitted to a good liberal arts college and the free honors program at my city's public university. I'd prefer the LAC's academics/culture, but I barely grasp the meaning of 230k. Consciously, all I'd like in this life is to open the floodgates of my sternum and let that primordial silvery stuff inside out to mix with the equivalent fluids that sit in others' guts, dormant until piqued by the prospect of combination. But considering the more frugal choice stings my pride sharply. How do I deal?
Because liberal arts education is yet another thing that’s free to those who can afford it but very expensive for those who can’t, the real question isn’t about school but about yourself. The question is:
Do you care about the whirl of experience more than you care about the comfort and leisure that would make that sort of life a pleasure?
Because if you do liberal arts right, you’ll become a roulette ball that never settles. For the rest of your life no identity will seduce, no doctrine will persuade, and no accomplishment will reward. You will not win because the momentum of intellectual greed bends everything into a circuit.
If Faust and Paradise Lost don’t read as cautionary tales to you; if you’re okay with seeming like a loser to everyone around you and—inwardly—even to your deepest self, then do it.
You’ll be in debt either way: better to yourself than Sallie Mae Cocksucker.
This 32-year-old man was an ambitious and creative mathematician whose life was geared to a weekly psychophysiological cycle. Towards the end of the working working week, he would become fretful, irritable and distractible, ‘useless’ at anything save the simplest routine tasks. He would have difficulty sleeping on Friday nights, and on Saturdays would become unbearable. On Sunday mornings he would awaken with a violent migraine, and would be forced to remain in bed for the greater part of the day. Towards evening he would break out in a gentle sweat and pass many pints of pale urine. The fury of his sufferings would melt away with the passage of these secretions. Following the attack he would feel a profound refreshment, a tranquillity, and a surge of creative energy which would carry him to the middle of the following week.
kenbaumann asked: How best to avoid describing myself in terms of the culture—in my case: books, movies, games, art—that I like? (Without doing Wittgenstein's mutter-about-my-increasing-stupidity thing?)
I think that it’s good to remember the distinction between the things that lend color to your life and the pale, translucent thing to which their color is lent.
So for example, you have the Egyptian tomb that Howard Carter excavated in 1922. I get uncomfortable and excited when I think about it. I find myself imagining the plates of carbonized fruit, the mummified cats, the fillets of fish laid out to feed them—fillets that were found to have raised themselves into arches as they dried, and then suddenly to crumble into dust when they were touched.
The immense period for which the tomb’s contents stayed perfectly still gives you the sense that time has been building up inside of it. And that the silence you hear once the doors are hauled open is not a silence at all, but instead a deafening testimony that time is bearing to a secret kept for three thousand years.
The testimonies of culture deafen us in a similar way. They are loud because life is hard. They are intense because disappointment can bleach. And to the kind of person who needs to make representations of their connection to culture, these accidents can easily be confused with an essential lack of vividness.
But then I think of a moment in the tomb after the excavation was complete, after the gold, the corpses and the treasure all had been removed. In this moment a junior archeologist is alone, copying hieroglyphs from the walls. And the only thing he can hear is the sound of wooden beams that creak and pop in the new air.
Anonymous asked: if you could, would you live forever?
Karl Marx wrote most of Capital at a side table not much larger than an open issue of The New York Times, feeling as he did for most of his creative life, a pain in his side that reminded him constantly of his father’s early death from liver cancer.
the phenomenon of suicide would appear to argue that even mortal life as we now experience it is too long for some people.
kites don’t work without the string…
Anonymous asked: feminist literature recommendations?
any literature is feminist if at the end of the book you feel as though you, mute though you may have seemed, can speak with the fluency and conviction it takes to be a real person
Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson worked for me.
Anonymous asked: What the fuck is the meaning of anything? Why am I compelled to wake up and go through the daily process when I know (or at least assume) that nothing I do will matter in say a thousand years? Is my inability to seriously contemplate suicide a product of my biology or is there some greater spiritual reason? Is it silly that I feel like there should be something above and beyond the nature of my meat, which is a spectacular work of natural engineering? Finally, how many of these do you get a day?
This makes me think about what happens in a woman at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle.
A woman’s ovaries are, in life, almost completely white. They sit deep in a woman’s hips, at the bottom of her abdominal cavity. If they weren’t tethered to the uterus by a pair of strong ligaments, they would be free to move around the abdomen, rather like the testicles of a male fetus before they descend into the scrotum.
The uterus is usually folded in a deep bow over the vagina. The two fallopian tubes extend from the top of the uterus, like a person bent double but with their arms thrown back at the shoulders. At their other ends, the fallopian tubes are open to the abdominal cavity. The openings are delicately fringed with thin fingers of tissue.
By the midpoint of a menstrual cycle, one egg is about to erupt from its ovary. The egg sits in the middle of a ball of jelly about the size of a hazelnut. This is the follicle. The follicle is so large and so well-supplied with blood that it forms a black blister on the surface of the ovary. The follicle begins to digest the ovary’s surface, in order to weaken the walls of the blister. Just before the follicle bursts, it secrets a hormone that causes the end of a fallopian tube to stir. The fringes begin to push their way through the abdominal cavity and towards the ovary. Once they’ve found it, the fringes start to walk across the ovary. They know the hormone that the follicle secretes and to discover its source, the fringes taste the ovary as they move across its surface. The fringes billow out once they touch the blister and then descend on it like a curtain. The follicle forces itself out of the weakest spot on the blister’s surface. The egg in its ball of jelly flows from this hole, into the abdominal cavity and up towards the tent of red fringe the fallopian tube has erected over it.
The egg is separated from its jelly by the fringe’s delicate fingers and passed from fringe to fringe, upwards into the mouth of the fallopian tube. Grooves in the wall of the tube slowly undulate to conduct the egg deeper and deeper, until a swallowing motion along the length of the tube catches the egg and conveys it to the uterus.
In one sense this is where all of us are from, but in another sense this account is even more foreign than the most extreme alienations that geography can produce.
When I say “I’m from Boston” or “I’m from Lagos,” I mean to extend myself to other people. When I say where I’m from, I’m trying to help someone understand me. But this is not the same kind of understanding you could boast of having once you’d read how an egg gets from an ovary to the uterus. When we begin to understand another person, after they start talking about themselves, we understand them. If you read a detailed account of an egg’s ovulation, you understand what happens to it. This is the difference between talking to a person over dinner and conducting an investigation that determines if they are guilty of a crime.
As thoroughly as we study the fringes of the fallopian tube, when they taste the ovary’s surface or delicately raise the liberated egg into the swallowing throat, we are only documenting their performance to higher and higher standards of precision. And even a record of unbounded precision will never allow us to understand the egg as it is understood by the delicate fringes that search for it. When a person talks about himself, when he explains his accent, or his unexpected turns of phrase, or the blackness of his skin by saying “I’m from Lagos,” when I bow over my dinner plate to catch every word he says, he is offering and I am accepting an understanding of greater and greater depth.
This is because the kind of understanding we would like to have, for other people and for ourselves, is a mutual activity. Something is offered and something is sought. An egg extends itself and the roving fringe tastes in search of it. A black man talks about himself and I lean forward so as not to miss a word he says.